Political Science

A conglomerate on the order of the old Gulf + Western, China National runs more than 160 cigarette brands, manufactured in about 100 factories across the country, and uses its earnings to invest in banks, luxury hotels, a hydroelectric plant, a golf course, and even drugmakers. Most of its money goes to its owner, the Chinese government; the tobacco industry accounts for about 7 percent of the state’s revenue each year [emphasis added], and China National controls as much as 98 percent of the market. All told, the industry in China employs more than 500,000 Chinese. They are among roughly 20 million people who get some income from tobacco, including members of 1.3 million farming households and workers at 5 million retailers, according to government figures. The extent to which the government is interlocked with the fortunes of China National might best be described by the company’s presence in schools. Slogans over the entrances to sponsored elementary schools read, “Genius comes from hard work. Tobacco helps you become talented.”

From Andrew Martin, there is more here.  Of course this helps explain why the Chinese government has such mixed feelings about conducting a successful anti-tobacco campaign.  By the way, do any of you know of a source on the 7 percent figure?

Joseph Heath’s Enlightenment 2.0 is one of the best books I have read in years. I offer an extensive review at the New Rambler. Here’s the opening:

Heath-Enlightenment-2Joseph Heath is a Canadian philosopher who is unusually conversant with economics and also unusually capable of writing sparkling prose for a popular audience. His earlier book Economics Without Illusions was split into 6 right-wing fallacies and 6 left-wing fallacies, and he did a commendable job on both sides. Heath has his own left-liberal point of view: the subtitle of Economics Without Illusions was Debunking the Myths of Modern Capitalism and in the original Canadian version, the book was subtitled Economics For People Who Hate Capitalism. However, I like capitalism and I still enjoyed it! Enlightenment 2.0 is Heath’s foray into political philosophy. Drawing on psychology, economics and political science, Enlightenment 2.0 is a brilliant defense of reason, an important call for a more rational politics, and a great read.

Heath is worried that the foundations of liberal society are being eroded by the cultural denigration of reason combined with ruthlessly competitive economic and political forces that exploit the biases and hooks of our unreasoning mind.

Although I admire Enlightenment 2.0, I answer the question of the post differently than does Heath and my review contains plenty of critical commentary. Ayn Rand, Idiocracy, mind viruses and other interesting characters make an appearance. Read the whole thing.

That is the new book by Daniel Tudor and James Pearson, the subtitle is Private Markets, Fashion Trends, Prison Camps, Dissenters and Defectors.  The basic message is that North Korea is far more (black) marketized — and more corrupt — than most outsiders realize.  Here is one representative passage:

Homes near the Sino-North Korean border are apparently quite expensive, since living there offers good business opportunities, and the ability to access Chinese cell phone networks.  There are reports of high-quality apartments changing hands for US$30,000 in the border city of Hyesan, for instance.  But this pales in comparison to the upmarket areas of the capital: a decent apartment in the central Pyongyang district of Mansudae (which is now jokingly referred to by expats as “Dubai” or “Pyonghattan”) will change hands for US$100,000 or more.  There are even those who talk of US$250,000 apartments.

A fascinating look at the hard to access part of the Hermit Kingdom, definitely recommended and as far as I know this book has no close substitute.

By the way, in Pyongyang, rain boots are seen as quite fashionable footwear.  And it can take up to a week to cross the (small) country by train.  In the border city of Hyesan, up to ten percent of the population may be involved in the meth trade.

Veronique de Rugy and Diane Katz have the scoop:

…the primary beneficiaries on the buyer side of the transactions are also very large firms.  Among the top 10 buyers, 5 are state-controlled and rake in millions of dollars from their own governments in addition to Ex-Im Bank subsidies.

Five of the top ten buyers are related to the production of oil or natural gas.  The other five top buyers are airlines.  Number one on the list is…can you guess it?  Pemex.  Clearly a company worthy of further subsidy, and from the American government too.

On the sell side, 80 percent of Ex-Im financing goes to support the exports of large American firms, note that the number one firm — Boeing — already receives plenty of implicit subsidy from DOD contracts.  Is there no limit to strategic trade policy?  And to the extent carbon emissions are important, how is the Ex-Im Bank doing on that scorecard?

Steven Quartz writes:

…our current Gilded Age has been greeted with relative complacency. Despite soaring inequality, worsened by the Great Recession, and recent grumbling about the 1 percent, Americans remain fairly happy. All of the wage gains since the downturn ended in 2009 have essentially gone to the top 1 percent, yet the proportion of Americans who say they are “thriving” has actually increased. So-called happiness inequality — the proportion of Americans who are either especially miserable or especially joyful — hit a 40-year low in 2010 by some measures. Men have historically been less happy than women, but that gap has disappeared. Whites have historically been happier than nonwhites, but that gap has narrowed, too.

In fact, American happiness has not only stayed steady, but converged, since wages began stagnating in the mid-1970s. This is puzzling. It does not conform with economic theories that compare happiness to envy, and emphasize the impact of relative income for happiness — how we compare with the Joneses.

Here is part of the answer, consistent with what I argued in my book What Price Fame?:

…social status, which was once hierarchical and zero-sum, has become more fragmented, pluralistic and subjective. The relationship between relative income and relative status, which used to be straightforward, has gotten much more complex.

…A new generation of ethnographers has discovered an explosion of consumer lifestyles and product diversification in recent decades. From evangelical Christian Harley-Davidson owners, who huddle together around a motorcycle’s radio listening to a service on Sunday mornings, to lifestyles organized around musical tastes, from the solidarity of punk rockers to yoga gatherings, from meditation retreats to book clubs, we use products to create and experience community. These communities often represent a consumer micro-culture, a “brand community,” or tribe, with its own values and norms about status.

The article is very interesting throughout, hat tip goes to Claire Morgan.

Note that the closing bit of this piece is…this: “Money may not buy happiness in the long run, but consumer choice has gone a long way in keeping most Americans reasonably content, even if they shouldn’t be.”

“There are individual US pilots that have had more carrier landings than the whole of the Chinese military,” says Mr Midgley. Gary Li, an independent defence analyst on Beijing, adds that having an aircraft carrier “does not equate to knowing how to use it. They are years away from being able to conduct carrier operations.”

I am not sure however that this is true:

The army will eventually have to get rid of troupes of dancers, opera singers and drivers who are more representative of a former era when ideological concerns were more pressing.

The FT article is interesting throughout.

Walmart critics embrace two moral standards: in the first, morality requires payment of high wages to 1.2 million people. In the second, morality can be achieved without employing anyone at all–that is, by paying zero wages. Most of us have chosen to live by the second standard, and from our lofty moral position we can criticize Walmart for not meeting the first standard. How convenient!
There is more here, from Ryan Decker, via Ben Southwood.

Mayor of a city or town – 9.3% are willing to consider

Member of Congress – 8.8%

President – 6.4%

That is from Jennifer L. Lawless and Richard L. Fox, Running From Office: Why Young Americans Are Turned Off to Politics, a fascinating and also readable book.

Maybe so, I haven’t yet had a chance to look at the paper, so I can’t lay out for you how the measurements work, or how many data points they have, but the abstract sounds interesting, albeit in a possibly speculative way:

The present article analyzes the differences between economists and non-economists with respect to observed corruption behavior used as a proxy for selfishness. For this purpose, I analyzed real world data of relating to the 109th–111th US Congress between 2005 and 2009, including 695 representatives and senators. I show that those who hold a degree in economics are significantly more prone to corruption than ‘non-economists’. These findings hence support the widespread, but controversial hypothesis in the ‘economist vs. non-economist literature’ that economists lack what Frey and Meier (2004) call ‘social behavior’. Moreover, by using real world data, these findings overcome the lack of external validity, which impact on the (low cost) experiments and surveys to date.

That is from René Ruske in Kyklos.  Hat tip goes to Kevin Lewis.

Can any of you find an ungated version?

The ageing societies of the rich world want rapid income growth and low inflation and a decent return on safe investments and limited redistribution and low levels of immigration. Well you can’t have all of that. And what they have decided is that what they’re prepared to sacrifice is the rapid income growth.

That is from Ryan Avent.

A live stream version is posted here, slide to 6:00 to start, YouTube and podcast and transcript versions are on their way.  I thought Jeff did just a tremendous job.  We covered the resource curse, why Russia failed and Poland succeeded, charter cities, his China optimism, how his recent book on JFK reflects the essence of his thought, why Paul Rosenstein-Rodan abandoned Austrian economics for “big push” ideas, whether Africa will be able to overcome the middle income trap, where he disagrees with Paul Krugman, his favorite novel (Doctor Zhivago, he tells us why too), premature deindustrialization, and how we should reform graduate economics education, among other topics.

Collinson, Ellen, and Ludwig have a new and long NBER paper (pdf) devoted to that topic.  Here are a few bits:

The United States government devotes about $40 billion each year to means-tested housing programs, plus another $6 billion or so in tax expenditures on the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC).

Yet total subsidies for home ownership may run as high as $600 billion, most of those not going to the poor.

There are over twenty different federal subsidized housing programs and most of them are no longer producing new units.

I am speaking for myself here, and not for the authors, but I cannot imagine any better case for cash transfers than to read this 75 pp. paper.

How about this?:

In 2012, housing authorities nationwide reported more than 6.5 million households on their waitlists for housing voucher or public housing.

That to my eye suggests targeting this aid is not working very well.

I found this to be an interesting comparison (I am not suggesting it is being driven by these federal housing policies):

The median renter household in 1960 was paying approximately 18 percent of his/her total family income in rent; the equivalent figure today is 29 percent.

Overall, I would like to see more economists call for the abolition of these programs and indeed some approximation of laissez-faire toward housing more generally.

By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission, due out in May, here is some summary:

In this provocative book, acclaimed social scientist and bestselling author Charles Murray shows us why we can no longer hope to roll back the power of the federal government through the normal political process. The Constitution is broken in ways that cannot be fixed even by a sympathetic Supreme Court. Our legal system is increasingly lawless, unmoored from traditional ideas of “the rule of law.” The legislative process has become systemically corrupt, no matter which party is in control.

But there’s good news beyond the Beltway. Technology is siphoning power from sclerotic government agencies and putting it in the hands of individuals and communities. The rediversification of American culture is making local freedom attractive to liberals as well as conservatives. People across the political spectrum are increasingly alienated from a regulatory state that nakedly serves its own interests rather than those of ordinary Americans.

An AEI notice is here, and for the pointer I thank David Levey.

You will find it here.  Here is one excerpt:

TYLER COWEN: New York City, overrated or underrated?

PETER THIEL: That’s massively overrated.


PETER THIEL: We had a 25-year boom in finance, from ’82 to ’07. I think that’s slowly ebbing, slowly abating. It’s going to be increasingly regulated, and so if you want a long/short blue state trade, you want to be long California, short New York. The long/short red state trade, by the way, is you want to be long Texas, short Virginia.

If you ask, what do Virginia and New York have in common, and what do Texas and California have in common? Both Texas and California are very inward-focused places. California, both the Hollywood version and the Silicon Valley version, are very focused in on themselves. Texas is also a very inward-focused place.

What Virginia and New York, or let’s say DC and New York City, have in common is that they’re centers of globalization. Finance is an industry that’s fundamentally leveraged to globalization, and DC is fundamentally leveraged to international geopolitics.

I would bet on globalization slowly being in abeyance. I think with the benefit of hindsight, we will realize that 2007 was not just the peak year of the finance boom, but also the peak year of globalization, like maybe 1913. Happily, it hasn’t resulted in a world war, at least not yet, but I think we are in this period where globalization is steadily pulling back.

And so you want to be in places or industries that are levered to things other than globalization.

Self-recommending…The YouTube and podcast versions are here.

Hayek on Gibraltar

by on April 4, 2015 at 1:06 pm in History, Law, Political Science | Permalink

In 1944, the celebrated economist Friedrich Hayek was commissioned by the British Colonial Office to undertake a report on the economy of Gibraltar. His conclusion was that the government of Gibraltar should use market forces to relocate working class Gibraltarians into neighbouring Spain. Yet despite the libertarian credentials Hayek had established via his work of the same year, The Road to Serfdom, such a policy would have moved Gibraltarians into the dictatorship of General Franco.

In a study presented to the Economic History Society’s 2015 annual conference, Chris Grocott argues that Hayek’s proposal to relocate Gibraltarians into Spain shows an alarming lack of political astuteness on the part of the winner of the 1974 Nobel Prize for Economics.

In the first instance, the British Colonial Office conveniently lost Hayek’s report. When it re-surfaced in early 1945, the Colonial Office then sent the report to the Admiralty who, unimpressed with Hayek’s condemnation of educational facilities in Gibraltar’s dockyard, moved to delay its publication. Meanwhile, Hayek himself was on a lecture tour of the United States, promoting The Road to Serfdom, and oblivious to the dismay that his report has caused.

There is more here, via the excellent but under-followed Mark Koyama.